Louisville women could get chance to again knock out Mulkey’s reigning champ in NCAA tourney

South Carolina guard Raven Johnson drives to the basket past LSU guard Hailey Van Lith during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference women's tournament final Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

South Carolina guard Raven Johnson drives to the basket past LSU guard Hailey Van Lith during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Southeastern Conference women’s tournament final Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Coach Jeff Walz and Louisville have knocked a reigning national champion out of the women’s NCAA Tournament in the past. The Cardinals could soon get a chance to do it again — against the same coach, who is now with a different title team, and their leading scorer the past two seasons.

If both higher seeds win their games, Louisville would face defending champ LSU, coach Kim Mulkey and former Cardinals’ three-year starter Hailey Van Lith on the Tigers’ home court.

Other intriguing potential second-round matchups include Ohio State standout guard Celeste Taylor maybe going against Duke, her team the past two seasons. West Virginia, after some viral comments by its coach, just might get to play Caitlin Clark and Iowa in what would be the last home game for the three-time All-American.

If things fall a certain way in the early going, get ready for these matchups:

LSU vs. LOUISVILLE

Before they can meet Sunday: The No. 3 seed Tigers (28-5) host Rice (19-14) on Friday and No. 6 seed Louisville (24-9) takes on Conference USA champion Middle Tennessee (29-4), which has a 19-game winning streak.

Mulkey, in her third season at LSU, won three national championships in 21 seasons at Baylor. The Bears were also prohibitive favorites to win another title in 2013, when they were reigning champs and two-time AP national player of the year Brittney Griner was in her senior season.

The Bears won their first two NCAA games by a combined 80 points, and were heavily favored in the Sweet 16 against Louisville. Baylor’s 32-game winning streak was part of a 74-1 stretch, including its 40-0 championship season.

With a zone defense Walz described as the “claw and one,” the Cardinals constantly surrounded Griner. The 6-foot-8 star didn’t have a basket until the second half and her foul with 2.6 seconds left, right after Baylor took its only lead, set up the two free throws that gave Louisville an 82-81 win.

Mulkey criticized game officials afterward, saying she “thought the game started out way too physical.” Walz was also critical after he had three players, two of them starters, foul out of the game.

Baylor beat Louisville 97-63 in another Sweet 16 game in 2017, then lost to Mississippi State in the Elite Eight.

Van Lith is averaging 12.3 points and 3.7 assists per game for LSU. She averaged 15.4 points while starting all 101 of her games at Louisville the past three seasons.

OHIO STATE vs. DUKE

Before they can meet Sunday: The No. 2 seed Buckeyes (25-5) are home Friday against Maine (24-9) and No. 7 seed Duke (20-11) takes on Richmond (29-5), which has won 20 of its last 22 games.

Taylor was the ACC defensive player of the year and Duke’s leading scorer last year, and had said she was returning for her senior season with the Blue Devils. She instead left for Ohio State, the third different team for which she will start an NCAA tourney game. She first played two seasons at Texas.

Now the Big Ten’s top defensive player, Taylor averages 10.1 points and 4.1 rebounds a game. She also has 103 assists, 70 steals and 28 blocked shots.

IOWA vs. WEST VIRGINIA

Before they can meet Monday: Top-seeded Iowa (29-4) will play before a sold-out crowd at home Saturday against a No. 16 seed: Holy Cross or UT-Martin, who play Thursday. No. 8 seed West Virginia (24-7) takes on Ivy League champ Princeton (25-4).

First-year West Virginia coach Mark Kellogg says his comments about sending Clark “packing” that went viral “got completely misconstrued.” He also insists the Mountaineers are focused on Princeton.

“We talked through Princeton and we went through all of that and what we knew about them. … Then it turns into Iowa,” Kellogg said, referring to what was said after the field was revealed Sunday night. “Somebody else used the comment about if we want to advance, you’re going to have to send (Clark) packing. And so then I used that phrase, and now that’s turned into what it’s turned into.”

The coach said it would be a great experience to face Clark, who he called the face of all college basketball. Clark has already said she is turning pro after this season.

“There is no Iowa if you don’t take care of Princeton,” Kellogg said.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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